, Volume 22, Issue 5, pp 1029–1043 | Cite as

Biodegradation of specified risk material and characterization of actinobacterial communities in laboratory-scale composters

  • Shanwei Xu
  • G. Douglas Inglis
  • Tim Reuter
  • O. Grant Clark
  • Miodrag Belosevic
  • Jerry J. Leonard
  • Tim A. McAllisterEmail author
Original Paper


As a result of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in Canada, specific tissues at risk of harbouring prions are not allowed to enter the food chain. Composting may be a viable alternative to rendering and land filling for the disposal of specified risk material (SRM). Two types of laboratory-scale composters, actively-heated and ambient systems were constructed to assess the biodegradation of SRM over 30 days. A second heating cycle was generated by mixing the compost after 15 days. Compared to ambient composters, temperature profiles in actively-heated composters were above 50°C for 5 and 4 days longer in the first and second composting cycles, respectively. Degradation of SRM was similar between two composter types during two composting cycles, averaging 52.2% in the first cycle and 43.9% in second cycle. Denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) revealed that changes in the actinobacteria populations in the first composting cycle were of a temporal nature, whereas alterations in populations in the second composting cycle were more related to active heating of compost. Sequencing of the dominant DGGE bands showed the predominance of Corynebacterium, Promicromonospora, Pseudonocardia, and Thermobifida in the first composting cycle and Corynebacterium, Mycobacterium, Nocardia, Saccharomonospora, and Streptomyces in the second composting cycle. Active heating can alter the nature of actinobacteria populations in compost, but does not appear to have a major impact on the extent of degradation of SRM.


Specified risk material (SRM) Laboratory-scale composter Biodegradation Actinobacteria Denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) 



This project was conducted with funding from the Prion Inactivation and Environment project, from the Alberta Prion Research Institute and the Specified Risk Material Disposal Program of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. The technical assistance of F. Van Herk, B. Baker, S. Cook, L. Selinger, and W. Smart are much appreciated. Direction from Reive Pumping and Heating Ltd. in Lethbridge with regard to the design and construction of the water circulation piping system was also invaluable. The authors also acknowledge Ben’s Meat in Lethbridge for the supply of bovine brain tissue from cattle under 30 months of age.


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Copyright information

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Shanwei Xu
    • 1
    • 2
  • G. Douglas Inglis
    • 2
  • Tim Reuter
    • 2
  • O. Grant Clark
    • 3
  • Miodrag Belosevic
    • 4
  • Jerry J. Leonard
    • 1
  • Tim A. McAllister
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional ScienceUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada
  2. 2.Agriculture and Agri-Food CanadaLethbridge Research CentreAlbertaCanada
  3. 3.Department of Bioresource EngineeringMcGill University, Ste-Anne-de-BellevueQuébecCanada
  4. 4.Department of Biological ScienceUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada

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